Sean O’Keeffe rubs shoulders with the scientific hoi polloi for the unveiling of a statue to acknowledge the work of Professor James Watson…
THE sun shone brightly in Dublin’s Botanic Gardens as the glitterati of the scientific world gathered to celebrate the achievements of a legend with the unveiling of a magnificent work of art.
Taking centre-stage was a sculptured piece standing six metres high and perched proudly atop a hill. The piece, titled What Is Life? was a way of encapsulating and acknowledging the achievements of Professor James Watson (pictured) – one of the geniuses behind the discovery of the genetic blueprint that pulses away inside all of us.
The good Professor mingled easily with the assembled guests, posing for pictures and sharing a laugh and a joke. All very ‘normal’. But let’s put all this into context: it’s a bit like Pele coming to your local football club for a bit of a kick about with the lads; or Paul McCartney dropping in to jam with the Ceili band!
Put it another way…the Professor was one of the people behind what is largely considered to be the most important scientific discovery of the last century.
DNA (or Deoxyribonucleic Acid, to give it its full scientific name) is one of those terms that you hear bandied about from time to time, but might not fully understand. If you don’t understand it…you are not alone, believe me!
Some plain language is called for here, methinks. We are all made of genes – and DNA is what makes up the genes. The DNA contains a ‘chemical code’ that helps the body function on every level.
DNA, which is constructed of long chains, is grouped into 23 different chromosomes. You have one set of 23 from your mother; and another set of 23 from papa. That makes a total of 46 chromosomes in each cell.
Now, here it gets a little bit complicated: if you look at DNA under a high-powered microscope, you will see what looks for all the world like a rope ladder and the ‘steps’ of the ladder are the actual code that contains all the genetic information that make you…you.
That’s what Professor James Watson, along with Francis Crick discovered back in the 1950s. The vision that it took to see this was inspirational – and nothing short of.
That’s why, when you see this giant of the field walking around with us mere mortals, it appears a little incongruous. There was something ‘other worldly’ about it.
The discovery was one thing; but the applications were quite something else. DNA is arguably without peer, particularly in the area of genetics and medical research.
The discovery of DNA has allowed us to head trouble off at the pass by accurately predicting which diseases people are susceptible to. It has also led to the discovery of a whole new army of designer drugs.
In the area of Forensic Science, again DNA has dominated due to the fact that a person can now be tied to an event by their DNA blueprint.
At one point last Sunday (April 28th, 2013) Professor James Watson posed for a picture with the statue behind him and, whatever way the sun reached out to touch the piece of art, it resulted in a halo effect.
And, suddenly, all was right with the world again.